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First Cup: Thursday

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: "Some of the basketball cognescenti still are unwilling to call the Spurs for what they really are. And that’s a dynasty in the truest since of the word. Although they have never won back-to-back NBA titles, the Spurs accomplished a feat Wednesday night in Cleveland that says more about their staying power as a franchise than any of their four river parades after championship seasons. The Spurs claimed their 50th win of the season for the 12th straight season, in a streak dating back to 2000 season. That mark is tied by the Los Angeles Lakers, who had 12 consecutive 50-win seasons from 1980-91. Their streak stops with the 1998-99 season, a 37-13 year where they would have easily won 50 games if there hadn’t been a lockout. Most amazingly of all, the current team was thought to have more questions than any of Gregg Popovich’s previous teams. But their victory over the Cavaliers gave them their 50th in only 61 games, the fastest team to that mark in franchise history."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Sometimes I think we’re too hard on the Hawks, and by 'we' I mean not just you but me. It wasn’t so long ago that a team on pace to finish with 50 or so victories this season was losing 69 games in a season. It wasn’t so long ago that we wondered if this franchise would ever again make the playoffs, let alone win a series.So, just for the record, the Hawks are no longer losers, and they’re nowhere close to being a terrible team. They’re a pretty good team, and they have been since May 2008. And yet … Being human, we want more. ... From a budding embarrassment, this became a big-time game between serious opponents. The Hawks spent the second half knocking the Bulls backward, and a Horford free throw — he was fouled by Noah -- tied it with 56 seconds left. A Noah free throw -- he was fouled by Horford -- put the Bulls back ahead. A Horford dunk off a pick-and-roll with Crawford gave the Hawks their first lead. Then Derrick Rose, who had a terrible second half, fumbled the ball, and Joe Johnson dunked. Then Rose missed and Kyle Korver missed, and it was over. The Hawks had won without Josh Smith after trailing by 19 points. They’d beaten a team they could see in the playoffs. They’d won at the beginning of a month in which they need to keep winning. They’d won, and for the first time in a long while, it felt as if this win meant something."

  • Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune: "The enduring image from the Bulls' 83-80 loss to the Hawks was Kyle Korver putting his hand on his forehead in disbelief. Korver fired the final shot, a 3-point try with about three seconds left. It was on line but caught nothing but air. 'I actually thought I made it,' he said. 'I was shocked that it was that short.' The game was shocking on many levels. The Bulls scored the first 14 points, led by 19 in the second quarter and took a 50-33 advantage into the locker room. But coach Tom Thibodeau saw warning signs. 'I thought we got real loose at the end of the second quarter -- one-handed passes, one-handed catches,' he said. 'You have to play tough with a lead.' Instead the Bulls played sloppily after the break, shooting just 30.6 percent with more turnovers (nine) than assists (eight). The result was a serious misstep in their quest for the top seed in the Eastern Conference."

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "The transformation that's taking place with the Nuggets is sudden and interesting and heartening to all of those with an emotional stake in the team. In their five games since the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Nuggets have played defense with passion, offense with unselfishness, hustled with reckless abandon and have been rewarded in the win column as a result. In the process, the Nuggets are changing outside perceptions of what they are and can be. The Nuggets trampled the Charlotte Bobcats 120-80 on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center for their fourth victory in five post-Melo games. And they're doing something many thought not possible just 10 days ago -- rising in the Western Conference playoff race. The Nuggets are firmly in the West's fifth slot with -- gasp! -- designs on catching the Northwest Division-leading Oklahoma City Thunder for fourth. It's getting to the point where Nuggets coach George Karl is having a hard time keeping his excitement under wraps. 'Offensively, it was just a pretty performance of the passing, spacing, the unity of the team,' Karl said. 'It's really fun to see it come together.' "

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant suffered a sprained left ankle. He didn't return to the arena floor after suffering the injury Wednesday night, and he was wearing a protective boot in the locker room after the game. Apparently, though, he wasn't feeling too bad. 'I'm out for the year,' he said when asked how his ankle was. He quickly flashed a Cheshire-cat grin. 'I'm just playin'.' Deep breath, Thunder fans. The guy's going to live to play another day, maybe even Friday at Atlanta. 'Hopefully, I'm ready to go,' he said. 'Just a little tweak. I did it before. Just gotta see how I feel in the morning.' It's never good when your superstar leaves the arena wearing one shoe and carrying the other. The truth is, on a night when we caught a glimpse of just how good this new-look Thunder squad might be, we were reminded that for all these different faces and heightened hopes, the most important person on this roster remains No. 35. Seeing Durant being helped to the locker room scared everyone."

  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe: "There were all of 16.2 seconds left, the Celtics’ 115-103 win over the Suns had essentially been over for three quarters, and Kevin Garnett picked up a technical foul. He was exchanging words with Suns coach Alvin Gentry since he didn’t get a chance to in late January, when Gentry told an Arizona radio station he had lost respect for Garnett, after Garnett took a swipe at Channing Frye’s midsection as Frye elevated for a jump shot and got more groin than stomach. It was replayed on every highlight show, and it looked like a sucker punch every time. Frye fumed at that moment, getting nose to nose with Garnett, which led to jawing, technicals, and a minor mosh pit of players. Gentry was appalled, but his team won by 17 points and Garnett kept the loss and the animosity bottled up until last night, when he scored 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and missed just 2 of 14 shots, setting the tone for the Celtics’ third straight win. So, with the game sewn up, Garnett chose to get the last word in. 'Alvin Gentry was asking me for tickets to the first round of the playoffs,’ Garnett said. 'I told him I’d hook him up.’ Garnett took Gentry’s words personally and responded on the floor, putting up his sixth straight double-double. All Gentry could do was bark from the bench. 'It’s very uncommon,’ Garnett said of beefing with a coach. 'But they’re an uncommon team.’ "

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "It took Luke Harangody eight minutes to feel like an official member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He got hurt. Welcome to the club, pick up your gold watch at the door. A team that has been ravaged with injuries this season took on two more in the Cavs' 109-99 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. Harangody suffered a right hip pointer injury and is day-to-day, while Daniel Gibson was a late scratch with a recurring thigh injury that won't go away. Cavs coach Byron Scott will hold Gibson out of Friday's game at the New York Knicks, as well. As for Harangody, the extent of his injury won't be known until he is examined later today. But Scott did what anyone in his position would do upon seeing Harangody was injured 8:09 into his Cavs career. ''I just started cracking up laughing,' Scott said. 'You've got to be kidding me.' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Dwight Howard certainly could go flex on Muscle Beach at a ripped 6-feet-11, 275 pounds, with an absurd six percent body fat. You couldn't miss him …unless you were judging the NBA's best-player contest. Dwight's practically invisible. His numbers have grown to ridiculous sizes lately, but you hear little chatter about his MVP candidacy. If it's not LeBron James leading the conversation, it's Derrick Rose. Or vice-versa. As a voter, I say Howard has joined them in the stretch run. He's on the red carpet. He deserves the award if he can continue lifting the Magic with a stellar closing kick. Maybe Dwight can win over supporters the next two nights in head-to-head matches against King James and Rose in nationally televised contests. As if the Heat-Magic rivalry needs more spice, make no mistake: Dwight feels he'll always have to overcome the LeBron lovefests to win the hardware. I go to great lengths to avoid bias, but the hometown guy has muscled into the lead pack."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "As much as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks about 'breakthroughs,' and as much as the Heat’s recent losses to the Knicks, Bulls and Celtics have been analyzed, you would think Miami hasn’t won a big game against a quality opponent all season. It’s as if the wins at Orlando and Oklahoma City and Los Angeles never happened. 'Nobody talks about those,' Dwyane Wade said Wednesday with a smirk on his face. The intense scrutiny was expected for the Heat, but the level of attention the Heat’s losses have gotten remains somewhat surprising to this group. 'That’s what the league is about,' LeBron James said. 'They only talk about our losses.' Added Wade: 'All 17 of our losses have been bad losses for us.' In that case, the Heat will have ample opportunity to turn that discussion in its favor over the next few weeks. The game against the Knicks began a run of 11 consecutive games against winning teams for Miami, and given that the margin of the Heat’s losses has been so minuscule of late, it’ll give the team several chances to fix what’s ailing it against the better teams."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: "The Jazz have yet to name a team captain to replace recently traded Deron Williams, who held that position for the past several seasons. Tyrone Corbin said the captain position will continue to be rotated among different players."

  • Doug Smith of Toronto Star: "As much as the Raptors-New Jersey Nets regular-season games at the O2 Arena on Friday and Saturday are about immediately boosting the popularity of the sport, the organizers are looking toward the 2012 London Olympics as well. Basketball is one of the marquee events of any Summer Olympics -- especially with the presence of the globally-popular NBAers who dot many of the national team rosters -- but the game has no real grassroots appeal in London. So part of the reason for the NBA games here is to increase awareness and, potentially, increase attention during the London Games so that organizers aren’t left scrambling to sell tickets to what’s normally a virtual sellout event. But it won’t be an easy sell, because history shows basketball has a low profile -- but if that profile is raised even a bit by these games, it’ll help."

  • Jason Reid of The Washington Post: "The NBA must fix its labor system. It's time to pop the hood, examine the problems carefully and determine what major parts need replacing. The viability of the league is all that's at stake. I'm not talking about turning back the clock to a time when owners held all the power over player movement. Arguing for modifying free agency doesn't mean advocating for the end of a system that gives players a say in where they live and who they work for. What's needed is a new approach that gives fans in every NBA city at least a little hope, even when their team isn't based in a popular tour stop. ... A hard salary cap has worked well for the NFL, though it's hard to tell now, with owners claiming such financial hardship they may shut down the world's most-profitable league. Still, in the NFL tiny Green Bay has as much of a chance to host a Super Bowl parade as New York. That's the same potential that should exist for NBA teams in Sacramento or Cleveland. Some would suggest things are working just fine. Television ratings are soaring along with interest in the formidable Bulls, Celtics, Heat, Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs. There are too few haves, however, and that threatens to undermine the whole. "

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "It was no coincidence that rookie Lance Stephenson's debut with the Indiana Pacers came after his legal issues were resolved. The Pacers, who have had a number of players go through off-court problems in the past, waited until Stephenson's case in New York was dismissed last week before letting him play for the first time. 'We're trying to do the right thing in terms of his court case and waiting to see what happened with that,' Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel said. 'Now that the charges were dismissed, we feel better about what we're doing for this organization as a whole.' Stephenson was ready to put his latest off-court issues behind him, too, saying he has been 'wanting to move on from it.' Vogel is trying to give Stephenson, who wanted to stay with the Pacers rather than play in the NBA Development League this season, minutes at both guard spots."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns will wear their notorious 'Los Suns' jerseys again. As part of the NBA's 5-year-old Noche Latina game marketing, the Suns will wear the "Los Suns" jerseys for a March 25 home game against New Orleans. They have worn them for Noche Latina-themed games previously, but it was Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver's decision to have the team wear them again on Cinco de Mayo last season that stirred controversy. Sarver wanted to make a public statement to protest a state's new immigration law that ultimately had vital parts of it blocked in federal court. The Hornets-Suns matchup will be one of 12 NBA games featuring clubs that wear uniforms with the team names as spoken by the Spanish-speaking fans and media."